Survey: Money leading issue for drivers in many ways

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Updated Feb 9, 2021

When the American Transportation Research Institute announced the findings of its most recent survey of critical issues in the trucking industry last October, the two distinct groups surveyed had drastically differing views about driver compensation. While driver pay did not make the top 10 list of concerns identified by representatives of trucking companies, truckers said it was the number one issue causing them the greatest concern.

Wwd Part 2Compensation also rose to the top again when Truckers News and its sister publication Overdrive polled 919 drivers — 589 company drivers and 330 leased owner-operators — for our What Drivers Want survey. And, not just once. Pay — or the lack of it — was cited as an issue in several different contexts, and especially when it came to why trucking companies may have problems attracting and retaining drivers. (Interestingly, motor carriers responding in the ATRI survey ranked “driver shortage” their number one concern and “driver retention” and number two.) Money was also cited by drivers as a reason they’ll keep on driving instead of hanging up the keys.

Most of the drivers responding to our poll were industry veterans. Fully 63% (62% of company drivers, 67% of leased owner-operators) have been truck drivers for 20 years or more. That suggests that based on longevity alone, they ought to be in or near the top of their earning potential. 

Older workers — those 55 years and older — in the entire U.S. workforce in 2018 earned a median annual income of $52,780, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. By comparison, fully 75% of all truckers (74% of company drivers and 77% of leased owner-operators) said they earned more than $50,000 a year.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that truckers enjoy financial security. A survey by Career Builders, a leading online job site, found that nearly a third of American workers making $50,000 to $99,999 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, and 70% are in debt. That survey bodes ill for drivers if they are like other American workers. It found more than 25% of workers do not set aside any savings each month. Almost 75% say they are in debt and more than half think they always will be, according to Career Builders’ survey.

For the record, exactly how much do truckers make? The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average annual wage for tractor-trailer drivers was $45,570 as of May 2018, the most recent figures available.  

Dissecting the numbers from the Truckers News/Overdrive survey shows:

  • 12% of all drivers (4% of company drivers, 27% of leased owner-operators) earned more than $100,000 last year
  • 25% (25% company drivers, 25% leased o-o) earned $75,001 to 100,000
  • 38% (45% company drivers, 24% leased o-o) earned $50,001 to $75,000
  • 18% (20% company drivers, 14% leased o-o) earned $35,001 to $50,000
  • 7% (6% company drivers, 9% leased o-o) earned $35,000 or less

So when it comes to truckers and money, here are the rest of the details from the Truckers News/Overdriver survey.

We asked: Why did you get into trucking?

  • 23% (company drivers 25%, leased o-o 19%) said it offered a good salary/way to provide for my family

We asked: Based on your miles/loads so far this year, how will your income change?

  • Make about the same amount of money as I did in 2018: 43% (company drivers 45%, leased o-o 42%)
  • Make less money than I did in 2018: 30% (company drivers 24%, leased o-o 39%)
  • Make more money than I did in 2018: 27% (company drivers 31%, leased o-o 19%) 

We asked: What is the one thing you dislike most about your job today?

  • I’m not making enough money: 12% (company drivers 12%, leased o-o 11%)

We asked: What are your top three concerns right now?

  • Paying my bills each month: 37% (company drivers 39%, leased o-o 37%)

We asked: Why do you think fleets are having a hard time finding drivers today?

  • They don’t pay enough: 72% (company drivers 72%, leased o-o 73%)

We asked: Why do you think fleets are having a hard time retaining drivers today?

  • They don’t pay enough: 74% (company drivers 73%, leased o-o 76%)

We asked: What would be the main reason you would consider changing jobs and driving for another fleet?

  • They offered me more money: 37% (company drivers 38%, leased o-o 35%)

We asked: If you were in charge of a fleet and could do one thing to attract and retain drivers, you would …

  • Raise pay: 28% (company drivers 29%, leased o-o 25%)
  • Guarantee a minimum pay, or mileage/loads: 18% (company drivers 16%, leased o-o 19%)

We asked: What do you think when you hear someone say, “Drivers will change jobs/fleets at the drop of a hat!”?

  • If fleets paid drivers what they’re worth, they wouldn’t have that problem: 55% (company drivers 54%, leased o-o 56%)

We asked: What do you see for the future of your trucking career?

  • I’m happy driving for a fleet — as long as my pay increases every year: 34% (company drivers 45%, leased o-o 14%)

We asked: If you don’t plan on retiring, why will you keep driving?

  • I need the money: 42% (company drivers 40%, leased o-o 45%)

We asked: What type of driving do you do

  • Over-the-road (long haul): 56% (company drivers 46%, leased o-o 74%)   
  • Regional: 39% (company drivers 41% , leased o-o 34%)
  • Dedicated: 20% (company drivers 25%, leased o-o 11%)
  • Pickup and delivery: 18% (company drivers 22%, leased o-o 11%)
  • Less-than-truckload: 11% (company drivers 11%, leased o-o 11%)
  • Team: 5% (company drivers 4%, leased o-o 6%)
  • Intermodal: 4% (company drivers 3%, leased o-o 6%)

We asked: How many miles did you drive last year?

  • 75,000 or less: 21% (company drivers 24%, leased o-o 14%) 
  • 75,001 to 100,000: 26% (company drivers 25%, leased o-o 28%)
  • 100,001 to 125,000: 26% (company drivers 25%, leased o-o 29%)
  • 125,001 to 150,000: 19% (company drivers 18%, leased o-o 20%)
  • More than 150,000: 8% (company drivers 8%, leased o-o 9%)

We asked: How long have you been a truck driver?

  • More than 20 years: 63% (company drivers 62%, leased o-o 67%)
  • 16 to 20 years: 10% (company drivers 11%, leased o-o 9%)   
  • 11-15 years: 10% (company drivers 10%, leased o-o 10%)
  • 6 to 10 years: 11% (company drivers 11%, leased o-o 9%)
  • 5 years or less: 6% (company drivers 6%, leased o-o 5%)

Coming in What Drivers Want Part III: Why retirement may be unattainable for many truckers.

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David Hollis the editor of Truckers News and can be reached at davidhollis@randallreilly.com